A California-based Web site is putting a new spin on Hanukkah this year, not with dreidels but with many a Jewish grandmother’s favorite pastime: mah jongg.
Starting after the Sabbath ends on Saturday, December 16, and continuing nightly through Saturday, December 23, the Web site mahjongtime.com will host the first-ever online Hanukkah mah jongg tournament.
Since the 1920s, when the ancient Chinese game first captured the American Jewish imagination, it has been associated with kibitzing Hadassah ladies sitting around card tables and drinking iced tea. It was primarily Jewish women who led to the creation of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937. The group now counts more than 275,000 members.
But don’t think they are all living in Miami Beach. Women in their 20s and 30s have been fueling a resurgence of the game in recent years, many yearning to reconnect with the culture of their grandparents. Mahjongtime.com is hoping to capitalize on this trend and pay homage to the American Jewish mah jongg tradition — just in time for the Festival of Lights and the holiday’s custom of friendly competition.
Top finishers can win money — and it won’t be made of chocolate. The four players at the final table will win cash prizes from $250 to $2,000, while every registered participant will receive a commemorative Hanukkah mah jongg tile. As a way to lure contestants, the Web site is offering an automated mah jongg table to the community center that registers the most players.
“It’s a very social game that takes a lot of thinking and strategy,” said William Sutjiadi, founder and CEO of mahjongtime.com. “It’s very easy to learn, but you need intelligence to win.”